CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Republican Party executive committee voted Saturday to close its Primary Election, limiting it to Republican voters only, starting in 2026. The move reverses a decision the GOP made over three decades ago to allow independent voters to participate.

The party leaders voted 65 in favor and 54 against the resolution. There are currently 287,000 independent or non-affiliated voters in West Virginia, making up 25 percent of all registered voters.

The debate initially divided state GOP leaders. The party’s resolutions committee earlier voted 4-3 to advance a proposal to close the Primary starting with the upcoming May election. Proponents of the immediate change argued that only Republican Party members should be allowed to decide party nominees.

Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, who serves on that GOP resolutions committee and voted in favor of the resolution going before the state committee, said on Talkline this week that closing the Primary would benefit “every conservative Republican” candidate.

“The more you allow independents and other non-affiliated voters to float around they will vote for candidates that have the shiniest piece of mail or best TV ad,” Butler said.

Sources also said several of the most conservative Republican candidates, including Attorney General and Gubernatorial candidate Patrick Morrisey and Representative and Senate candidate Alex Mooney, wanted the rule change to take effect this year. The belief was that more right-leaning candidates would benefit if moderate independents could not participate.

However, those who objected to changing the rules now, including outgoing party chair Elgin McArdle, said the shift did not give the party enough time to fully inform independents before the May 14 Primary. Additionally, she said, it would change the rules for candidates who had already filed to run for office.

The party’s executive committee first considered an amendment altering the resolution to reflect the rule change for 2026 instead of 2024. That passed narrowly in a secret ballot 62-58. The members next voted on the revised resolution closing the Primary starting in 2026 and it passed 65-54.

“After a lively debate, the WVGOP came together and voted to close the Primary in 2026,” said McArdle.

Butler said after the vote Saturday that the party still encouraged non-affiliated voters to support Republicans in May.

The state Democratic Party has made no similar move to close its Primary.

The committee also unanimously passed a resolution encouraging Republican Primary voters to “carefully research candidates and nominate true conservatives in May.” That appeared to be aimed at Secretary of State candidate Doug Skaff, and any other candidate who has recently switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party.

In addition, the party leaders elected Wood County businessman Matt Herridge as the new party chair, succeeding McArdle.